If you’re an artist, you undoubtedly know how expensive this hobby or profession can be. A single brush or a tube of paint, if high quality, can run over a $100!
While I never advise using cheap, inferior art supplies, I do have my tricks. But before you go off bargain shopping, let me tell you what not to do.
Cut costs on supplemental items, but do NOT go cheap on the mediums. If you’re using a specific technique, try not to use student grade or bargain brands for your mediums. These lesser brands will usually will have less pigment in them. A good comparison is Crayola Crayons, and the other less expensive brands. If you compare the two, the other brands are less colorful and intense than Crayola. They contain more wax than pigment, which is why they cost less.
Paints are very similar. Student grades or bargain brands often will have less pigments in them and more fluid in their base, especially in acrylics. Some have a high degree of polymer binder and less pigment, making them somewhat transparent or dull. You’ll also see this in oils, where the cheaper paints will have more oil in them.
While it’s good to save money when you can, using inferior quality in your art mediums can produce disappointing results. You may end up blaming yourself for having no talent, when it’s actually your products letting you down. Let the kids and the young beginners use the other stuff. If you’re more advanced, always go for quality art products for better results.
I see a lot of this frustration with colored pencils. Many students find out that the high-end brands are very expensive. But, when the students buy a less expensive brand, they cannot achieve the same results I get with my work. Being an instructor, I find this is so frustrating, because my students then feel as if they just can’t do it! It’s not them that is failing, it is the pencils! A set of Crayola colored pencils, while great for kids, will never give the same look as a drawing done in Prismacolor.
Creative Alternatives for Art Supplies
So when it comes to the mediums you use, use the good stuff for achieving a professional look. If I recommend a brand in my books, using it is the only way to achieve the same results.
Aside from the mediums, there are plenty substitutions you can make to save money. And I am ALL about saving money! Here are just a few of the ways I do art on a budget. It becomes an artistic scavenger hunt.
When I was very young, and could not afford a lot of art supplies, I became creative in finding alternatives. I’ve always loved to draw on toned paper, but good paper is expensive. I would take my brown paper grocery sacks and dismantle them. I would then cut the unprinted side off, and create sheets of paper. I would stack them and use a hole punch on one side, and then lace the side together with twine. It made a perfect pad of brown paper for colored pencils. I still like to draw on this, for the paper is a beautiful color, and it has a perfect feel to it. (And, it’s another great reason to not use plastic bags.)
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I’ve been in retail art supply sales for more than 35 years and today, I can buy whatever I want. But I still prefer to search for bargains, and use cheaper things over the expensively made items as appropriate. My favorite budget busters are what I use for painting.
There is a huge variety of paint palettes available, and I have tried them all. Yes, they’re good, but my very favorite is one I found at the corner Dollar Store. It’s a tray made for condiments or chips, and the plastic is very slick. Some plastic has a rougher surface, and that will not clean well. But this one has such a slick surface, the paint peels right off. I LOVE it for its light weight. It’s easy to hold, and the wells in it are perfect for mixing. I use these for both oil and acrylics, and if I have any leftover paint, I pop it in the freezer until my next painting session. You can also use deviled egg trays. Their wells are smaller, and they are perfect for watercolors. I shall never by an expensive palette again!
I also save money when it comes to brushes. Recently, my sister gave me a beautiful set of cosmetic brushes for Christmas. As well-intended as her gift was, I don’t use brushes for makeup. One day, I saw them sitting there doing nothing, and I had an idea. I had forgotten my drafting brush, and needed one for the drawing I was doing. I picked up the larger “blush brush” and used it instead. It was even better! The soft, fluffy bristles brushed off the drawing debris with absolutely no smearing, and the brush is so small and portable that it fits wonderfully into my pencil bag. Who knew?
If you buy a full set (which often comes in carrying case for travel), the other brushes are very useful: I even use the mascara brush for scratching texture. Since I have no delusion of the brushes lasting as long as a professional paintbrush, I make sure to take good care of them. After each use, I wash them thoroughly with the “Master’s Brush Soap.” I’m sure that with this care, I will get a lot of mileage out of them.
Another resource for good, natural brushes is your local nail salon. They have to use expensive, sable hair brushes for their work. But, as soon as they start to splay out from the chemicals, they have to throw them away. I made a deal with my local salon to buy their castoffs. I got them either for free or for very little, since to them they were trash. What a great deal!
Lastly, to carry all of these little treasures, go to the fishing department at a discount store. The tackle boxes they have are a fraction of the cost of your art store storage boxes. I found out that many of these are made in the same manufacturing plants as the art supply boxes, and the only difference is in the price tag.
These are just a few of my little secrets to make your art experience less painful in the pocketbook! Experiment and you’ll find there are many ways to substitute and turn things into art supplies! If you think of any others, please let me know in the comments section so we can all share!
Until next time!
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!
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